Climate visas and smart trains: the best green innovations of the week

In a week of COP23 preparations and global reports, edie rounds up the low-carbon and resource-efficient innovations that could shape the future.

edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package

edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package

COP23 kicks off in Bonn next week and if the reports released this week are anything to go by, a lot of work still needs to be done. Despite strong performances from the UK and China, the G20 has been warned that the goals of the Paris Agreement won't be achieved with current decarbonisation ambitions.

The bad news doesn’t stop there. Figures show that levels of CO2 in the atmosphere increased at record speed last year, while a stark UN report has warned that there is an "unacceptable" gap between national pledges and the emissions reductions required to meet the Paris Agreement's climate targets.

The private sector is mobilising action. Companies are investing at least one trillion dollars globally in ways to reduce the threat of climate change. However, researchers have warned that only 30% of the world's top 250 listed companies have set strong goals to curb global warming

Investors have been warned to examine their portfolios, particularly any businesses or projects in the oil sector. A quarter of global refining capacity will leave the market or be forced to close by 2035, a new report warns.

With COP23 on the horizon, some investors are calling on developed countries to put “cows alongside cars” and prioritise the "elephant in the room" at the UN talks, by tackling livestock sector emissions.

Evidently, innovation has a big role to play in alleviating the pressures of society. With that in mind, edie has once again pulled the best innovation stories of the week into this neat and tidy little green package.

Raise the roof, and the ground

The severe weather events in the US have been well-documented. Hurricanes and rising sea levels heighten the need for better flood protection, which is exactly what the US city of Boston is now seeking to implement.

Boston has unveiled a plan to prevent flooding across its vulnerable, waterfront neighbourhoods. The Coastal Resilience Solutions For East Boston and Charlestown report outlines what measures could be introduced in these areas to reduce flood risk.

Measures being discussed will be outlined as flood-defence proposals in future city developments, and plans include raising sections of Charleston’s Main Street by two feet. Elsewhere, elevated pathways, parks and beaches could be used as a barricade against rising sea levels.

Speak friend and enter

In 2014, Ioane Teitota made history after applying to become the world’s first climate change refugee. Teitota sought to transfer from Kigali to New Zealand, but his case was eventually dismissed, and he was deported the following year.

However, the new Labour-led coalition government in New Zealand has appointed Green party leader James Shaw as the climate change minister. Before the election, Shaw pledged to increase the country’s refugee quota from 750 annually to around 4,000 in six years.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand earlier this week, Shaw claimed that the government is examining whether to create a visa category which specifically helps relocate Pacific-based people who have been displaced by climate change. Around 100 visas could be granted under this category.

Buffalo small soldiers

As solar panels become cheaper and battery storage develops, the concept of microgrids is becoming more appealing and more realistic. Next month, the National Grid will turn on an automated trading system that will enable the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to become the world’s smallest power market.

The medical campus will sell electricity generated from onsite solar panels to local businesses, and even doctor’s offices – marking the first power market to be created using a single utility service area.

Battery storage means the campus can hold on to its renewable energy and sell at preferable rates, and data management will create hourly prices for electricity across the 120-acre campus. Whereas bigger markets can cater for gigawatts of electricity – and transport it across states – the campus will trade between 5MW to 10MW.

Tackling climate change at a snail’s pace

It would appear that scientists have uncovered an ideal defence mechanism to protect aquatic ecosystems against global warming and rising temperatures. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the solutions is part of a multi-billion pound technology, but sometimes nature provides the best innovations.

The key to a thriving ecosystem is to ensure it is balanced, and algal spore eating snails are providing quality of life for other sea creatures in rocky, underwater terrain. These limpets stop certain plants and sea life from dominating the ecosystem.

A study, recently published in the journal Science Advances, noted that during the summer, starfish, seaweed, barnacles and other creatures could cope with the temperature, but only if the limpets were present. If they weren’t around the ecosystem was damaged as a result. Scientists will explore these actions further to see what can be learnt and applied elsewhere.

Sense and destinations

Although the car sector is receiving a radical electric makeover, other forms of transport may need to play catch up in the decarbonisation process. Enter the CRRC Corporation, which has unveiled a 100% electric, self-driving train that journeys on virtual tracks.

Now operating in select streets of Zhuzhou in the Chinese Province of Hunan, the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit can transport up to 300 passengers, reaching speeds of around 43mph. With “heads” at both ends of the train, which is 103 feet long, it negates the need to turnaround.

But the real beauty of the creation is the sensors. Using rubber tires instead of traditional steel wheels, the train runs on dotted patterns painted onto streets. Sensors pick up these patterns and travel across them accordingly. It has been reported that the train can travel more than 15 miles after a 10 minute charge.

London crosses paths with CLT

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) offers a lower embodied carbon footprint and quick construction time compared to traditional methods for building projects. Earlier this week, architecture firm Waugh Thistleton completed what it claims is the world’s largest CLT building.

The group completed the a 10-storey apartment complex in Dalston, London, standing at more than 33 metres tall. The £24m complex consists of apartments, restaurants, retail space and a “flexible work hub”.

Although the external cladding is brick, the use of CLT makes the structure five times lighter than if concrete was used instead. As the timber frame has around 50% less embodied CO2, the building will operate as carbon neutral for its first few years of use. It will also lock in around 2,600 tonnes of carbon.

Matt Mace


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